B&A Trail Half Marathon, Severna Park, Maryland, March 5, 2006
2:36:23 chip time, 11:56 min/mile (PR).
This half marathon is fairly close by for me, so this is my 3rd attempt at the course. In 2002 I struggled through it at 2:53:20, while in 2005 I had a better day running it in 2:39:54.
In December I just ran a half marathon PR on a hilly course at 2:37:50, and my training since then has been fairly consistent. Being familiar with this flatter course, I knew if I had a good day I might be able to PR, and it would be nice if I could finally break the 12 minute per mile barrier (2:37:12). I'd been running some of my shorter workouts at a fairly easy 11:30 - 11:45 minute per mile pace, the only big question in my mind was whether I would be able to string together 13 consecutive miles like that. And do it without a taper, too - I had a short run and a swim on Saturday, and a tough very windy 27-mile struggling bike ride on Friday.
Up at 4:40, caffeinate and grab my bag of food (cheese, juice, a pop tart) to eat on the 75-minute drive. It starts at a large high school so the runners are able to stay warm inside standing in lines for the toilets. Finally we runners start assembling outside. I've got 2 thin layers of Coolmax shirts on, plus a vest, with gloves and ear-warmer, but it still feels quite chilly waiting for the gun. That's okay, if I'm not cold at the start I'll be too hot when running. I carried a water bottle, since I knew the stops were widely spaced on this race. Start my watch timer a little early so that my watch time is a little more generous than the chip time. Over the starting mats - glad they had them this year, because I was about 2 minutes back into the pack.
The course is a little tricky and it's an easy one to go too hard at the start. I wore my heart rate meter in order to pace myself and had decided to keep my heart rate under 165 for the first 5 miles, go between 170 and 175 the second five, and then go hard and ignore it toward the end.
The first three miles of the course winds through an attractive, hilly neighborhood. I jogged along at a comfortable pace, settling into my stride, and trying not to get swept along by the faster runners. In a couple of the steeper uphills I walked when my heart rate was getting a little too high. There's a long way to go, and I will need that extra energy later.
The mile markers are little white bunny cutouts. I watched for the bunnies.
Mile 1: 11:53
Mile 2: 11:36
I always miss the mile 3 marker, and I did it again this year.
Mile 3 plus Mile 4: 24:22
Now we had turned onto a long, straight, relatively flat rail-trail. I knew it was time to settle into my steady-state stride and maintain it. Just after the Mile 4 marker I walked for a minute or so to take a sports gel and an electrolyte capsule. I'm still feeling cold, and my nose is running badly.
Mile 5: 12:13 Whoops, lost a little time there. Gotta pick it up. I ran by myself the whole way, even though there were about 1000 other runners doing the half and full marathons. Just keep it steady. The trail starts getting a little boring until the runners start coming back at me from the turnaround. I can watch the front-runners, cheer them and encourage them, and soak up some of their energy.
Mile 6: 11:33 Better! That's time in the bank now. Walk a few steps through the water stop for a cup each of Gatorade and water.
Now we get into the part I had saved my strength for: we exit the trail and go out onto the shoulder of a stretch of highway. A big long downhill where I can pick up the pace a bit, but then a sharp uphill to the turnaround. Back down, and then the long long uphill back to the trail. Heart rate starting to creep into the 170s at times now. I concentrate on breathing and running easily and it backs down a bit.
Mile 7: 13:48 Uh oh! That won't do! I'm going to have to work harder than that! Back through the water stop, quickly fill up my bottle halfway, and back on the trail. Hmm, those hills seemed a LOT harder the last couple times I ran this race. Those weren't so bad.
Mile 8: 10:08 I don't actually think I ran it this fast, I think the next mile marker was probably a little misplaced. After the marker I walked again to take my second sports gel and electrolyte capsule. You've got five miles to go, just reel them in one by one.
Mile 9: 12:40 Ooh, lost some time on that walk again! That's not so good! Better pick up the pace a bit.
Mile 10: 11:46 This is the part of the race where it gets hard. A five mile straight stretch, with few other runners around me. It's easy to lose focus, but I fought against it. I watched for birds. I tried to reel in the runners in front of me, and even caught a few of the elderly ones, or those who went out too fast. My nose is running so badly still that I'm glad I'm running by myself. Ack. Gross.
Mile 11: 11:39 I'm bored. My legs and lower back are starting to hurt. Concentrate. I started counting steps. Let's see, 84 steps per minute, count to 84 and repeat. Where's that next bunny mile marker? Not many people left around. I pass one guy walking along, looking dispirited, and talking on a cell phone. I ask him if he's ordering pizza, and he laughs and says, "I need one!"
Mile 12: There's the bunny! 11:42. That'll do. Maintain the effort. Keep it steady. The heart rate meter is staying mostly in the low 170s. That's fine. Keep the numbers right there. Ack! Getting a side stitch - breathe into it and relax. Just keep running. This is boring. But 12 miles seems a lot shorter than it used to, doesn't it? Pretend that this is the Ironman, and you've been going all day. You can keep it up for just one more mile. Just one more mile.
Mile 13: 11:48 Steady, steady.... is that the finish line ahead? It is!!
Final 1/10: 1:15
Done! Cross the line, stop my watch and check my final watch time. 2:36:30! Yay, that's a PR! Plus I broke that 12 minute per mile barrier! I'm pleased. Average heart rate 164 bpm. Get my medal around my neck, thank the volunteers, walk back slowly (why does it hurt to walk so much *after* the finish line?) and start to get really chilled in the cold breeze. I see at least one marathoner who has already finished his whole 26.2 miles and still looks fresh. Back inside the high school, pick up a piece of lukewarm pizza and a cookie, a couple cups of Coke, and I'm good to go.
Not a bad day's workout! Maybe I'll take a full rest day and do NOTHING today. I feel pretty good today, though, nothing is too sore, and I'm left wondering what I could do if I tapered, and then ran just a little less conservatively. But that's for another day, another race.